Beach Party (1963).
Here it is, the little flick that launched a thousand teen movie imitators.
AIP produced “Beach Party” as a quick stand alone film to cash in on the popularity of Elvis Presley’s movies. But what they got was a phenomenon that became the start of a film franchise, created one of the most popular movie genres of the 1960s, made stars of Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, and helped launch the surf music craze. It was the first of the teen beach movies, and probably the best.
The plot is pretty fluffy – a socially awkward anthopologist (Robert Cummings) and his long-suffering assistant (Dorothy Malone) set up camp at a Southern California beach to study the mating habits of American teenagers. They get tangled up with a group of kids played by Frankie and Annette, Jody McCrea, Eva Six, Candy Johnson and a host of others, along with Morey Amsterdam as the beat poet Cappy and Harvey Lembeck as motorcycle gang leader Eric Von Zipper. Along the way there’s some romantic complications and misunderstandings, some broad comedy and a cameo by Vincent Price (which is used as an excuse to cross-promote AIP’s series of Roger Corman/Edgar Allan Poe movies).
But the plot is little more than an excuse for a string of musical numbers. Beside the obligatory songs for both Frankie and Annette (plus the theme song, which they sing together), the real musical treats are the songs from Dick Dale and the Del-Tones. Dale pretty much invented surf music on his own, and “Beach Party” introduced his creation to the world.
There’s nothing deep or clever here, but it sure is fun. This movie is all about the atmosphere and attitude, which it crystallized nearly flawlessly. Drive-ins of the 1960s may have been flooded with cheap “Beach Party” knock-offs, but the original is still where it’s really at.
“The pit! Bring me my pendulum, kiddies. I feel like swinging.”
Among the uncredited extras playing various surfers and beach bums, keep an eye out for Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and Peter Falk, the future Lt. Columbo.
The sequel, “Muscle Beach Party” (1964), which is nearly as good.
Take a Look:
Robert Cummings goes surfing:
Dorothy Malone was way underused in this movie, but here’s a nice little scene with her:
Candy Johnson tears it up during the end credits: